REVIEW: DTC’s feminist ‘Christmas Carol’

Posted on 01 Dec 2016 at 11:34am
sally-nystuen-vahle-as-scrooge-photo-by-karen-almond

Sally Nystuen Vahle as Scrooge (Photo by Karen Almond)

Ebenezer Scrooge’s name immediately conjures a dour, angular, mean physicality. You can see his pointy chin, his narrow, flinty eyes, his thin-lipped scowl.

Only the Scrooge at the Wyly Theatre now, courtesy of Dallas Theater Center‘s annual production of A Christmas Carol, isn’t a he at all, but a she. It’s not just gender-blind casting: DTC has had women play Jacob Marley before, as well as a host of the Ghosts of Christmases, and Tiny Tim is often played by a little girl. No, this Ebenezer definitely has two X chromosomes — “Miss Scrooge,” her terrified workers call her. He last surviving relative isn’t Nephew Fred, but Niece Lucy; even the Fezziwigs appear to be a partnership.

Hey, Hillary mightn’t’ve risen to the top, but these revisionist Dickens characters have.

And it definitely adds a new layer to the psychology of Scrooge.

How he got to think of holidays as a humbug has never fully wrung true. Yes, young Scrooge was abandoned by a remote dad, and he lost his devoted sister Fanny; even his fiancee abandoned him. But only after money had driven him cold. His miserliness drove people away, not the other way around.

But now, we see Miss Scrooge as the embodimentliz-mikel-gabrielle-reyes-ace-anderson-chamblee-ferguson-photo-by-karen-almond of The Bitch Conundrum: A powerful man is seen as decisive; a powerful woman as a bitch. Breaking that glass ceiling was sure to imbed some shards.

It’s a lovely little twist on the familiar tale, given a lot of life by Sally Nystuen Vahle as the top-hatted Ebby with perpetual smirk. Kevin Moriarty has updated his adaptation, jointly presenting the dual crises of the Industrial Revolution and the Sexual Revolution — Ebenezer Steinem, by way of The Jungle. The cold, heartless weight of the age linger more than even prior versions of this production, and not always in a good way. Bob Cratchit (here more foreman than bookkeeper, played by Alex Organ) all but disappears into the background of steam engines and furnaces; during the opening scenes, you even lose some dialogue to all the busy-ness on the stage.

But it does provide a striking counterpoint when the set begins to twinkle in colored lights and smiling harmonies as Miss Scrooge’s heart melts away. I see it every year, and every year it gets to me.

Vahle is terrific, of course, by so in Chamblee Ferguson, taking on a variety of small roles (Scrooge’s valet, Mr. Fezziwig, etc.) and proving how brilliant character work doesn’t depend on lots of lines, but rather inventive choices. He, like this version of the show itself, proves that there’s always room to be surprised.

At the Wyly Theatre through Dec. 28.

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